Saturday, October 10, 2009

Miss Eberle and Mr. Sullivan (conclusion)

In the weeks that followed, Matilda returned to the apartment on Bedford Street every Saturday afternoon. She would have come more often, if Mr. Sullivan had asked her to, but she had a suspicion that one session a week was probably as much as he could afford. On her third or fourth visit he asked her -- it was to be honest a little more than a request, though not quite a demand -- if she would disrobe entirely and pose for him lying on his bed. She hesitated for a moment, not sure that she was quite ready for that, but then she remembered her mother's injunction against half-measures and decided that she would either have to comply or leave immediately and never return. She chose the former. She didn't withdraw from the room to undress, but instead crossed the room and sat on the edge of the bed, draping her robe around her body and eyeing the windows. As soon as Mr. Sullivan turned his back for a moment she slipped off her skirt and undergarments, loosened her robe, and lay down. At first she assumed a position that she thought he would find artistic -- it was something she had seen in a French painting in one of her mother's books -- but when he turned to her and saw this he frowned and told her to just lie naturally, which she did, after a few seconds of awkwardness while she considered what to do with her hands.

He sketched her in silence from across the room, then, perhaps sensing that she was not entirely at ease, broke off after only a few minutes and told her she could get dressed. She resumed her position on the chair and sat for him fully clothed for the rest of the session. The following week, when she returned, she again lay on the bed, and this time he sketched her that way for most of an hour.

She found it rather a relief, a few weeks later, when they became lovers. He was quite gentle about it and wouldn't have persisted if she had objected, but she decided that she was ready for it to happen. At first he continued to offer her money for her time, but she felt quite strongly that it wasn't appropriate anymore. In any case he soon enough gave up on the idea of drawing professionally, and Matilda never posed for him again. Instead of accepting his money she insisted on leading him on a shopping expedition and making him buy himself some better clothes, an activity he consented to with only as much grumbling as he thought he was obliged to make about it. They went out to dinner sometimes -- nothing elaborate, for she quickly discovered that he had overextended himself financially by paying her for her sessions -- but often she just accompanied him on long walks around the squares and parks of the vicinity, sticking to the quiet streets so they could linger at their ease, talking quietly, strolling arm in arm. During one of their afternoons alone he finally revealed to her his given name, which from then on she used exclusively.

As spring arrived Matilda began to suspect that she might be with child; a discreetly arranged visit to a physician in the neighborhood confirmed her suspicion. She went home to New Rochelle for the weekend and to her surprise her mother raised rather a scene about it, at least at first, then she calmed down and said that after all Matilda was old enough to look out for herself, which Matilda didn't think was all that helpful, especially when her mother then almost immediately dashed off for the evening with some friends. Her father never alluded to the subject at all. Matilda didn't know when or how he was told of her condition, but she was fairly sure that her mother had pointedly told him to mind his own affairs and not meddle with women's business, an admonition with which he was no doubt more than happy to comply.

When she told Mr. Sullivan, a few days later, he was quite firm about marrying her, though she hadn't intended to insist. She informed her parents of their plans and from then on her mother largely took over the arrangements for the wedding. They were married in early June; Isabel, who was herself by now engaged to Friedrich, served as maid-of-honor. Her brothers were a little stiff about it, but they minded their manners.

The couple were promptly settled into a brownstone just off of Washington Square. It was a wedding gift from her father, as neither Matilda nor her husband seemed likely to be able to support themselves according to her family's station for quite some time, if ever. Her mother came to get along quite well with her son-in-law, though Matilda was afraid that her father never knew quite what to make of him. After the baby was born -- a boy -- her mother often came into the village to make sure that Matilda swaddled him up warmly enough when she took him out in the carriage for her daily circuit of the square.

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